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Kyrgyzstan voters approve new constitution

Despite fears about another outbreak of ethnic violence, Kyrgyzstan has voted on a new constitution that could pave the way for the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia.

An ethnic Uzbek casts his vote

Kyrgyzstan was voting for its future

Kyrgyzstan's new constitution has been approved by more than 90 percent of voters, according to early results from the country's electoral commission, clearing the way for Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy.

Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva said the referendum on Sunday was a success, and added that it had taken place without incident. She said parliamentary elections were expected to take place in October.

"The new constitution has been adopted, despite the savage attacks of its opponents," Otunbayeva told a news conference in the capital Bishkek.

Kyrgyz interim government leader Roza Otunbayeva

Otunbayeva hoped voters would give the green light to her government

"We are proud of our people. We are proud of our country, which made this choice at a difficult hour, " she said. "The people have put a full stop to the epoch of authoritarian, nepotistic management. Today we reached victory on the path to a true government of the people."

Otunbayeva cast her vote early Sunday in Osh, the city in southern Kyrgyzstan that was a center of violent ethnic clashes between the two main ethnic groups - the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority - which killed at least 275 people this month, perhaps up to 2,000.

The violence followed a bloody revolt that overthrew former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

A simple question

Voters were asked one simple question: Do you approve of a new constitution? The charter would transfer power from the president to a new prime minister. Parliamentary elections would be held every five years and the president would be limited to a single six-year term.

Some 8,000 police officers and an equal number of defense volunteers were enlisted to maintain security and checkpoints were set up throughout the capital and the southern region. But some observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, had expressed concern over security during the vote.

"Our country today is on the brink of great danger, but the results of this referendum will show that the country is united and that the people are one. It will stand strong on its own feet and move forward," Otunbayeva said after casting her vote.

A Kyrgyz soldier checks driver's documents at a check point in the southern city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Security was tight in Kyrgyzstan as the country voted

A vote for stability

Despite the backdrop of violence, the central election commission said voter turnout was at 69 percent. Over two million people were eligible to vote.

"I voted 'yes' so that the situation gets better," Dlora Kazakbayeva, a Uzbek woman also voting in Osh, told the AFP news agency. "Many Uzbeks have suffered and several members of my family died. I am scared but I came to vote."

Otunbayeva remained convinced that the divisions in the country would not get in the way of her interim government's plans for reform.

"Today the people of Kyrgyzstan are voting for stability in the country and the legality of the authorities," Otunbayeva said. "We will show the world that Kyrgyzstan is united."

Otunbayeva was previously ambassador to Britain and the United States, but she is little known in Osh and her control of the volatile region is tenuous.

Parliamentary elections are set to be held in October, while Otunbayeva says she'll remain in power until 2011 before stepping aside.

Author: Holly Fox, Richard Connor (AFP/AP/Reuters)
Editor: Kyle James

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